Badge of Shame
By Joy Kam and edited by Pastor David Lai
A brief history of Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery is one of the “three great” Gelug monastic universities of Tibet, located north of Lhasa. The other two are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The Sera complex is divided into two sectors by pathways; the eastern part contains the Great Assembly Hall and the dwellings of monks, and the western part has the well-known three colleges: Sera Jey Dratsang, Sera Me Dratsang; and Ngakpa Dratsang.
Sera Jey monastery was originally established by Jetsun Kunkhen Lodroe Rinchen Senge, who was one of the main disciples of Lama Tsongkhapa (1357 – 1419) in the early 15th century. After going to exile, Sera Jey Monastery was re-established in 1970 at the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe in Southern India. Today, there are more than 3500 monks living within this monastery. This great monastery is also famous for having created greatly renowned teachers like Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Geshe Rabten, Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Geshe Ngawang Dhargye and also Lama Yeshe.
A brief history of the ban
In 1996, after many lifetimes of worshipping Dorje Shugden, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama began to impose a prohibition on this 400 year old practice, without giving proper logical or scriptural reasons. Ever since then, for over 19 years, thousands of exiled Tibetans; monks, nuns and lay practitioners who practices Dorje Shugden have been ostracised, discriminated and segregated.
The Tibetan Leadership systematically implemented and encouraged the ban on Dorje Shugden by putting up signs, disseminating memos and notices to enforce the prohibition of this practice and those who continue practicing this deity were shun and rejected within their own exiled community. This act is a huge breach on Shugden worshippers’ human rights to religious freedom, as well as a breach on the practitioners’ spiritual bond (samaya) with their teacher as they are forced to abandon a sacred practice given to them by their teacher. This becomes a violation of their spiritual vows and commitments.
Dalai Lama bans Dorje Shugden practice and expels monks
A New Ruling At Sera Jey
In recent times, His Holiness the Dalai Lama says there is no ban and that it was all just spiritual “advice” and that the monasteries have gathered together and decided on the ban. It is said that people had their freedom of choice to choose to practice or give up on the practice on Dorje Shugden even though there are so many concrete evidence of an imposed ban.
On the 25th January 2016, Sera Jey Monastic officials have issued a letter to impose a new ruling that all ‘bona fide member monks of Sera Jey wear a badge that specifically indicates whether they practice Dogyal or not. If that is the case and everything Shugden practitioners are saying about the ban is untrue, then WHY does an established monastery like Sera Jey implement an identity badge system “distinguish” the identities of their monks from Dogyal propitiating monks?
Hence, this is obviously not just “advice” against Shugden but outright discrimination and this new ruling is a proof of this. If it was really just advice, then why does an advice need to be imposed in the monasteries? There is a difference between advice and instructions, this is obviously an instruction to be enforced, and it is very clear evidence that there is discrimination and a real ban on Dorje Shugden practitioners. If this is not considered a ban or discrimination on Shugden practitioners then what is?
Questions to ponder…
Let’s just ponder these questions. If someone tells you that you have the freedom to practice any religion you want but you need to wear a badge meant to show that you are a practitioner of religion x, how would that make you feel? A normal person made to do that would immediately feel that the badge is meant to ostracize those who aren’t a practitioner of religion x. Why does anybody need to wear a badge meant to distinguish monks from Dorje Shugden practitioners? This is the same question a monk of Sera Jey would ask since the monastery had already officially expelled Dorje Shugden practitioners. By wearing the badge, monks of Sera Jey would be made to feel that the monastery is deliberately discriminating against Dorje Shugden practitioners of Sera Jey who don’t wear the badge.
It seems that Sera Jey monastery is being pressured by higher authorities to filter out a few stubborn remaining Dorje Shugden practitioners, who despite all the efforts of implementing the Shugden ban, continue to hold on to this practice. This is because the new ruling would have to be approved by the private office of the Dalai Lama before being implemented. Perhaps this is the Tibetan leadership’s final push in tightening the ban on Dorje Shugden to distract their people from their own failures in delivering an independent Tibet and the recent controversies surrounding an allegation that the recent elections was rigged. On the other hand, the pressuring of the monastery like Sera Jey to do this, the Tibetan Leadership (Central Tibetan Administration – CTA) washes their hands clean on this issue where they could say “see we’re not the ones creating discrimination or implementing any ban” but it’s the monastery’s own ruling.
So what is going to happen to those who do not wear the badge? Are they going to be excommunicated and ostracised because it is stated in the letter that this badge is meant to distinguish between those who practice Dorje Shugden. So are they saying that those who practice Dorje Shugden are not pure and therefore need to be kicked out and that people should not associate with them because they are not pure? This new ruling of wearing a badge to single out Dorje Shugden practitioners counters the very core of the teachings that the Geshes and elders of the monastery teach on generating compassion for all sentient beings.
Another important question would be where would these monks be wearing these badges? They would not have to wear the badge within the monastery as they had already sworn off the practice of Dorje Shugden. Naturally, they have to wear it to big events such as the Dalai Lama’s teachings, initiations, Geshe examinations, great debates between monasteries and all around the Tibetan community in Bylakuppe and other Tibetan communities. By doing so shops owners, businesses and the exiled community are encouraged to shun those who are Shugden practitioners by being identified by a badge of discrimination. This will create more controversy, segregation, separation, conflict and ultimately violence especially within the lay community who are already riled up by the previous implementation of the ban.
So why would Sera Jey wish to stir up disharmony and trouble for Shugden practitioners if they were pure Buddhist practitioners? If the ruling is not meant to discriminate and is strictly for a spiritual purpose, then why not implement rulings that reinforce the Vinaya vows. Why not enforce rules that would make the monks hold their vows well especially those that make monks be harmonious with each other, behave and speak in such a way that inspire faith and respect? Why enforce a badge that divides people? In the history of the various Buddhist monastic universities, there has never been such a rule where one needs to wear a badge to indicate their practice and promote further segregation and disunity amongst the Sangha?
The Sera Jey discriminatory badge ruling has similarities with Hitler’s implementation of the yellow badge for Jews, which was a mandatory ID badge. The badge was sewn on a person’s outer garments and immediately identified Jews of the young and old to be rounded up into various groups so that they can be tortured and murdered on a massive scale.
Since Sera Jey had started this badge ruling, it will be a moral and psychological pressure for the other monasteries to implement this rule. The reason is simple, because all the monasteries want to compete to curry His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s favour, as there are benefits to be gained from this. For example, when His Holiness pays a visit to Sera Je monastery to give teachings and pictures are inevitably taken and this would place them in a good light.
By associating themselves with His Holiness closely, this would show to the world that they are ‘pure and legitimate’ and that the Dalai Lama backs them up, and this will gain them more prestige and fame hence more sponsorship, donations and of course more members to join them in order to make them grow further. There is nothing wrong with that because real practitioners would rejoice in any Dharma institution’s growth because it will benefit more people but the means and method that Sera Je is adopting to gain material resources are actually against human rights as it segregates people, inevitably causes more pain and suffering to others, and that is downright wrong and that is the injustice of this illogical ruling of wearing a badge. This is something we should and simply cannot allow and it is something we, not just a Shugden practitioners, but as human beings, should speak up against because this is a clear and direct proof of the ban on Dorje Shugden and that is against the freedom of religion.
Some may ask “why is wearing a badge viewed as negative as there are many organisations out there that wear badges.” The issue here is not about wearing a badge, the issue is why do we need to wear a badge to distinguish between Shugden practitioners and non-practitioners? Why do we even need to distinguish anyone if it leads to something positive? We have seen much suppression, segregation, and bias towards Shugden practitioners who have suffered so much conflict for over 19 years. In the end, this badge is just going to perpetuate the negative oppression and segregation even further. The reason is because the badge like the Dorje Shugden hit list from the Tibetan leadership has only served to incite further discrimination and violence.
Therefore, this badge from Sera Jey Monastery is not a statement of identity, peace, harmony or to create anything positive amongst the monks of Sera Jey but rather, it has become a symbol of injustice inflicted on Dorje Shugden practitioners as a whole. This has become the first Buddhist apartheid the world has ever seen. The ‘advice’ by His Holiness the Dalai Lama against Dorje Shugden has created further discrimination against the followers of this protector now in the form of this identity badge of shame.
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NOTE: Something interesting is that according to WeChat, a communications mobile chat app on smartphones, many of Sera Jey Monastery’s monks have expressed their wishes not to implement this badge system as it will create more discrimination and harm. But the monastic heads in collusion with the Tibetan leadership went ahead with it anyways.
Screenshot of announcement on Sera Jey’s website
Link to announcement on Sera Jey’s website: http://www.serajeymonastery.org/component/content/article/152-announcement/969-identity-badge-of-sera-jey.html
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